Maybe you need a good cookbook to get in the mood for frying latkes (or, at the very least, maybe your Aunt Sophie of the well-burnt kugel does). The best place to look this season might be at the Jewish Community Center, where the annual Leah Cohen Festival of Books and Authors offers an entire palate of Jewish cookbooks opening up new facets of a cuisine you thought was limited to tsimmes and kishkas: kosher, Sephardic, continental, lowfat...you name it, chances are it'll now be Jewish, or at least fit the parameters. Eat in health.
The sale, which possibly gathers every Judaic title in print under one roof, is also laden with last-minute gifts. For adults, there's history, fiction, books of faith and tales of mayhem; choose from a selection that includes Tough Jews: Fathers, Sons and Gangster Dreams, a history of the Jewish wiseguys; Shmuley Boteach's Kosher Sex, a guide to what is and isn't allowed according to tradition; Mystery Midrash: Anthology of Jewish Mystery and Detective Fiction; The Mezzuzah in the Madonna's Foot, a personal history of secret Jews; and hundreds of other titles. For kids, there are such tomes as Always Wear Clean Underwear (what Jewish mother wouldn't want to impress that message upon her offspring?), Jews in Sports, and dozens of picture books, including fiction writer Francine Prose's fanciful retellings of traditional Yiddish tales. Pick up Hanukkah gelt, dreidels, candles and gift wrap when you check out.
Kids' gifts also reign at Temple Emanuel, where gift shop manager Terry Heller says her hottest items this season are Macabeanies -- Beanie Baby-style toys manufactured by a company calling itself Oy (with permission from Ty, evidently). Gefilte the fish, Mooses the moose and Muttzah the dog are flying out of the shop, along with their five companions; in all, there are eight personalities, one for each night of Hanukkah. There's also a musical yo-yo that plays "I Have a Little Dreidel" as it spins, a variety of holiday snow globes, and Holiday Specs, paper glasses for $1.95 that turn everything you see through them into rainbow-hued dreidels or stars. Dreidels are popular, too, from the twenty-cent toys for kids to a pricey Limoges model for your glass case. "Dreidels are collected a lot because they're small," Heller says. "They're easy to put out for the holiday or keep out year-round." She also stocks menorahs in every material imaginable, from the standard brass and silver to shimmering crystal, noting that ceramic candelabras are giving way to pewter and glass in popularity. But, she adds, "traditional always sells." To finish the presentation, the shop stocks fabulous candles, including a new hand-dipped variety imported from Israel.
Tradition is fine, but as Ellen Spiller of the Boulder Arts and Crafts Cooperative has observed, "People in general are looking for contemporary festival-ware." Since the co-op began hosting its Judaica show five years ago, interest has increased dramatically. "People are actually lined up for opening day," Spiller says. And here are some reasons why: Ceramic menorahs depicting scenes of shtetl life by local artist Barbara Westfall; Sue Trueman's modern stoneware and porcelain pieces; Mark Rossier's miniature pots-on-a-wall candleholders; and a large selection of general Judaica, from mezzuzahs to Sabbath candles. This year, Spiller adds, the show includes more wall art with Judaic themes, such as the Chagall-like oil pastel and watercolor works of Devora Kanegis.
In Denver, Cherry Creek North craft gallery Show of Hands carries works by many of the same artists as the Boulder co-op, along with beautiful wrought-iron menorahs so stylish that people want to buy them for everyday use and a line of brightly painted wood items decorated with whimsical burn-in designs from Sticks, a small Des Moines company with a big following. And at Howell-Cole Gallery in Tamarac Square, Don Drumm's dramatic cast-aluminum menorahs, including one that's a magnificent three feet tall, are far from ordinary. Which befits a holiday celebrating extraordinary events -- the point, you'll remember, of all this shopping frenzy.
It was a whirlwind tour, but now you're ready to burn, baby, burn.